Friday, November 13, 2009

Spotlight on satellites for disaster management

Sian Lewis in Satellites can save lives from natural disasters but developing countries risk missing the opportunity through poor political support. Successfully applied, new technologies can accelerate a country's development and help transform its people's socioeconomic prospects.

This is never truer than for satellite technology. Telecommunication satellites, for example, are already delivering teaching material to remote communities and advice to farmers on when to plant their crops. Satellites offer developing countries another opportunity to improve living conditions — remote sensing for disaster management.

And that's important. The developing world suffers more than 95 per cent of all deaths caused by natural disasters. Last year alone, two disasters — cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the Sichuan earthquake in China — killed more than 225,000 people.

Yet, with a few notable exceptions, developing country governments rarely fully appreciate how remote sensing satellites could reduce this death toll. And most don't provide the capacity and resources to make it happen.

Satellites collect accurate, frequent and virtually instantaneous data over the whole world. They often offer the only way of viewing disaster areas. The developed world already harnesses remote sensing to monitor and manage disasters. … Some developing country governments also rely on remote sensing to cope with natural disasters. When a severe earthquake hit Sichuan province in China last year, for example, nearly 1300 satellite images were processed to monitor and evaluate damage, mitigate additional threats, and guide relief workers through affected areas….

An artist's conception of a fully integrated environmental monitoring system including satellites, balloons, ships, aircraft, buoys, and data reception and processing facilities. Circa 1965! What, no jetpack? Image from NOAA

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